R5 Gerraint: Cat Coit Celidon

Caledonia proved a different world, haunting, foreboding, demanding of respect and reverence.  The forest grew full of strange trees and the hills got covered in rocky places where nothing seemed to grow but that strange purple heather.  They found acres of wide open meadows covered in wildflowers, just waiting for a plow; but no sign of human life intruded, like a land forbidden to the human animal.  They found bogs that came up from nowhere and sucked at a man’s soul, and lakes, long and lean, that hinted of monsters in their icy depths. Gerraint felt glad that he was the only one to dream of being hunted by a T-Rex.

After two days, Pinewood brought word that a large force waited in the next valley.  The narrow valley had a stream running through it, and few trees, like it had been stripped of lumber some time back.  The forest took up on the hillside above.  The Picts were all up on the side of that hill, about two thousand men, and they waited for Arthur to arrive before springing the trap. Clearly, they wanted to pay Arthur back for the beating they took against the River Ure when Arthur had the trees and high ground above the river.

Arthur had six hundred horsemen, almost all trained lancers and veterans.  He had six hundred footmen, mostly men from the north hardened by generations of Pictish, Danish and Saxon raids.  These men would give no quarter now that the raiding was going in the other direction. Arthur knew he would have to watch them to keep the murder of women and children to a minimum.

They stopped shy of the valley, tempting as it was to have some open space with fresh water running through it, but he wanted the Picts to suffer a cold and quiet night with no campfires and no conversation.  He knew some men, left to their own thoughts, would worry and fill their minds with fear about the coming battle.  Others would have to be content with cold meat and bread in the morning, lest they give away their position and what they imagined was their surprise.  Arthur’s men, by contrast, lit great fires and sang songs into the night, like they were out on a lovely stroll through the woods in springtime.  He knew that would grate on the nerves of the enemy.

In the morning, before dawn, Arthur’s footmen climbed the rise in secret, by scouted paths, in order to get above and behind the enemy.  The horsemen made plenty of noise, both to distract the enemy and to make it appear like the full compliment was still in the camp, and packing slowly.  Arthur had three hundred mules, heavily burdened with all the supplies they thought to bring on the campaign.  He had no wagons because mules could go where wagons could not follow, and in the worst case, they could simply be abandoned, or served for lunch.  The mules meant a hundred-horse had to be kept back when the action started, but five hundred got ready to ride out into the valley just as soon as the Picts abandoned the heights.

Deerrunner brought two hundred elf bowmen, all deadly shots, who disguised themselves with powerful glamours so they appeared human. They wore the plain green and brown capes of hunters, and a few wore the lion and pretended to be from Cornwall. They blended in with the Brits who hardly knew every man there from every village in the north, and were glad to see men from as far away as Cornwall on their side.  Besides that, the forest to the left and right of the Picts got filled with traps set by Dumfries and his goblins, and filed with dwarfs, axes ready.  They knew the plan was to drive the Picts down into the valley where Arthur’s cavalry could get at them, and they were going to do their part to make sure none of the Picts escaped through the trees and back into the wilderness.

Gerraint knew all of this went on, and while he did not approve, he kept his mouth shut.  The only idea he flat turned down was the idea of the ogres.  They said more than a dozen ogres bearing down on the Picts from above would inspire the Picts to run as fast as their feet could run, but Gerraint knew that fear did not discriminate.  He did not want the Brits in a footrace with the Picts, trying to be the first to escape.

The action started at high noon, and it took less time than they thought for the Picts to abandon their position.  There were also considerably less Picts that poured out of the trees and on to the open valley than he expected. Fortunately, his men were ready, and the cavalry charge finished the job.  There were hardly more than five hundred blue painted Picts who made it out of the far end of the valley and headed toward the sea.  Arthur deliberately followed and at more leisurely pace.

The first village they came to on the coast had been abandoned.  Arthur burned it along with every boat in the bay.  They turned north at that point and headed toward the chief city of the Picts which sat near where Aberdeen would one day be located.  They burned every village they came to, finding them mostly deserted, and burned and sank every boat they captured.  They killed the men they found and drove the women and children into the wilderness.  There, the elves and dwarfs turned the women and children north until they joined the great march of refugees headed for the safety of the city walls.

Arthur kept slowing down his men.  Even after witnessing the horrors visited on the people in North Britain, he felt reluctant to make war directly on women and children, but he knew many of his men had no such reluctance.  He did not approve of the slaughter of the innocents, but like Gerraint with his little ones, Arthur said nothing about it. Slowing down became his concession that allowed the refugees to stay ahead of the army to swell the streets and lanes of the city, and put a strain on the city’s resources.  He said he wanted the Picts falling all over themselves by the time he arrived.

Pinewood kept Arthur from falling into whatever traps or ambushes the Picts set, and otherwise the journey seemed a pleasant one by the sea.  By the time they arrived at the city, the men were well rested and ready for action, though for Arthur, his anger had been somewhat sated.  Arthur knew what he had planned, and with a bit of help from Gerraint, he only hoped the men were not too disappointed.  He called for the twenty-six.

The twenty-six were the mules that carried, in two parts, the pieces for small catapults—the same that Arthur used to shoot hooks and ropes to the top of the wall of Fort Cambuslang—the same that he mounted on the fat merchant ships that got strung together to blockade the River Clyde.  They could hardly throw anything further than about twice bowshot, but they were just the thing for travel through the wilderness.

While they were being set up, Deerrunner and his two hundred inched closer to the wall.  From the back they wore the familiar green and brown hunter’s garb, but from the city walls the elves used an extra bit of magic that made them invisible. They crawled up to whatever bits of cover remained outside the walls in order to make the illusion more believable, but from there they could easily fire their arrows and pick off any Pict foolish enough to stick his head up.  With no return fire, the catapults could be brought up close.

The city wall had ten feet of thick stone at the bottom.  Another ten feet of lumber rose above that.  It looked formidable enough but the city behind it was all wood, and the houses, side by side, had the same dry thatched roofs that they found in the villages. It would burn dangerously fast, and Arthur had several thousand globes of pitch and tar that could be lit and heaved by the catapults.

The bombardment began roughly an hour before dawn. By the time the sun rose, half the city looked to be in flames and they heard the sounds of screaming and panic. About an hour after the sun rose, three hundred brave souls tried to ride out of a gate to attack the catapults. Lord Pinewood and thirty of his finest were able to fly there, fairy fast, and began firing their arrows before the first ten got all the way out.  Also, Arthur had his men concentrated around the six gates of the city, so the battle did not last long.  Maybe fifty men abandoned their dead and wounded and fled back into the city without coming near a catapult.

Another hour later and people tried to escape the horror on slow, terribly overcrowded ships.  But Arthur had stationed three of his thirteen catapults as near to the port as he could, and manned them with sailors who knew how to hit a moving ship. To be sure, most of the ships made it to deep water, though few without injury.  Some of the ships were set aflame and eventually sank, with people diving overboard, desperately trying to swim back to the docks.

By noon, the city became mostly a pile of smoking embers and Arthur packed up his catapults and his men and headed inland. Gerraint told Deerrunner and Bogus they were to continue to watch the gates and try to prevent anyone from leaving the city for three days.  He did not want to see any little ones hurt, but he imagined it might be possible there were enough men left who might be stupid enough to pursue Arthur.  In response, Gerraint caught the image of ogres in the daylight and trolls and goblins in the night, but he did not want to look any closer.

Arthur set a zigzag course through the inland. Like on the coast, most of the villages he came to were deserted, but a few resisted, briefly.  With Pinewood’s warning, the Picts were incapable of pulling off a trap or ambush, and this time Arthur allowed his northern Brits their way, as long as it was swift.

By the time they got back to the Antonine Wall, The British had slated their thirst for revenge and brought back plenty of loot besides.  Once again, the Scots stepped aside, most because Arthur returned with so few casualties, but some because they were beginning to get reports on what happened in the north.  Arthur imagined some of the Scottish “Lairds” might already be drawing up plans to move north into the Highlands and take over.  Arthur would not stop them.

Arthur and Gerraint stood side by side watching the army march, and watched Percival come up beside them, a hard look on the younger man’s face.  “This isn’t fun anymore,” he said.

“At least we should have peace for a time,” Arthur responded.

Gerraint answered Percival more directly.  “We aren’t children anymore.”

Percival nodded.  “In that case, I think I’ll find a wife.”  He looked at Gerraint and Arthur joined in that look.  Gerraint grinned, but said nothing.

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Thus ends the tale of Gerraint, Percival, and Arthur, Pendragon in the days of their youth.

MONDAY

The story of Gerraint, Percival, and Arthur continues through their middle ages (pun intended), with: The Kairos and Rome, Book 6 (R6) Gerraint’s story: How Gerraint finds a wife.  How Arthur is taken off to the continent.  How Gerraint is tormented for a time.  And how the Scots and Danes, the Jutes, and finally the Angles and Saxons just won’t keep still and silent.

You might call it Gerraint’s story, part 2.  I was asked if it is important to read part one first?  No.  Part 2, if you want to call it that, is a story, or more like a series of episodes unto themselves.  Most people already know many of the characters: King Arthur, Gwynyvar, Lancelot, Bedwyr and Bedivere, Uwaine and Gawaine, Bohort, Lionel, Howel, Pelenor and Percival.  So, please step right in and enjoy the story.  See you MONDAY.

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R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 2 of 2

At once there came a flash of light and a tall woman, the most beautiful woman Arthur had ever seen, stepped up beside him and waved her arm once.  The fog cleared off in an instant, like waving her arm created a great wind, though Arthur felt no wind.  The clearing revealed six blue painted Picts, crouched like hunters, but utterly unmoving.

Meryddin got revealed, standing still as a statue on the edge of the forest.  The woman stepped up for a closer look. She saw the grandfather, a djin, a lesser spirit of evil that terrorized people to the point where they died of fright and then it sucked out their souls.  He had gone over to the other side, but before he went, he allowed a young woman to live.  She had a son who soon enough ate his mother.  His reign of terror came to the end at the hands of the people, a Frankenstein-type mob, but not before he impregnated a fifteen-year-old girl.  She had a son, Meryddin, one quarter djin.

Suddenly it made sense.  By the time Meryddin turned ten, his mother, then twenty-five, looked more like fifty.  She had no life left to tend the boy.  He went into the hands of the druids who worked their mightiest spells to bind the thing inside the boy.  They were partially successful, and Meryddin seemed normal after that.  But he never lost the ability to see and hear at great distances, though he could not exactly control it, and his power of illusion stayed great.

The woman turned when Arthur turned and saw, not Gwynyvar, but Gwenhwyfach.  The woman knew Gwenhwyfach participated in Meryddin’s scheme, and she took a deep breath before she acted.

“Go home, trollop,” the woman said, and Gwenhwyfach disappeared from that place.  Arthur stared at the woman until she gave her name.  “Danna.”

“Goddess,” he responded.

“No, Gerraint,” she smiled for him.  “And it would seem strange to be my own goddess, but he is a Christian now.”

“Yes.”  Arthur came more to himself and nodded.  “As am I, but…”  He quickly looked around.  He felt mortified by what he did and it showed on his face.

“No one saw,” Danna said.  She waved her hand again and Arthur became clothed.  “For you it will be like an unpleasant dream, but you must remember it because there will be consequences.”  Another wave and Arthur appeared back in his tent, on his bed, asleep.  Then the goddess turned to the others.  She started with Meryddin, and when she opened his eyes they almost popped from his head on sight of her.

“I see you,” she said.  “I see what is inside of you, driving you.  Will you see it?”

Meryddin’s tongue came loose.  “You cannot be here.  How can you be here?  My goddess, do not turn against your servant.”

“I will show you,” Danna said.  “This is in your heart.”

Meryddin got set free even as the vision formed. He saw himself as a child slowly draining the life of his own mother.  He saw his father eating his own mother and he screamed.  He saw his grandfather and ran, wild abandon in the dark, with no thought for his life, and indeed, no thought at all beyond his fear. How far he would run and whether or not his mind would ever be whole again, even Danna could not say.  His influence over Arthur ended, but his wickedness continued and she did not have the right to intervene.  There would be consequences, but in the meanwhile, she could do something about the six Pictish statues

Danna looked at the men and thought the compulsion should pass in a week.  One madman per night should be enough.  She waved her hand once more and all six men appeared, five in villages along the coast and the sixth in the city that would one day be called Aberdeen.  They attracted an immediate crowd, night or not. Danna made sure of that.  Then the men spoke, but the only thing they could say was, “We should not have gone beyond the wall.  Now we are all dead.”  And they said it whenever they opened their mouths.

Danna turned to the forest and said, “Hear me.” That voice echoed through the Highlands, rippled across the lakes and blew like the cold wind in the remotest islands of the north.  “The time has come.  The iniquity is complete.  The Picts will be no more.  Do not hinder the men from the south.  Arthur must have his way.”  Then Danna vanished instantly and Gerraint returned, Salvation in his hand as it had been when Danna filled his shoes.

Gerraint looked up at the stars and moon, now clearly visible since the fog pushed off.  He returned his sword to its place and climbed off wall.  Uwaine stood there, but the boy did not see.  Just as well, Gerraint thought, and he thought of those men saying the same thing over and over for seven days, if they should live. He spoke out loud.

“My name is Inigo Montoya.  You keelled my Father.  Prepare to die.”

Uwaine nodded.  “Weird,” he said.

Arthur found Gerraint at dawn, said he had the weirdest dream and since he could not find Meryddin and since Gerraint was king of weird he wanted to share it.

Gerraint interrupted.  “I did not see anything through that fog, and there is no power on earth that can make her tell anyone.”  He paused when he saw a tear come up into Arthurs eyes.  “Meryddin ran away,” he added.

Arthur grasped at that change of subject.  “What do you mean ran away?”

“He got scared.  He ran, off into the forest, into the wilds of the Celidon.  I don’t know if we will see him again.”

“Scared?”

 “He saw himself, what he really is.  He might not be in his right mind.”  Gerraint shook his head, sadly.

Arthur sniffed, dried his eyes and stepped to the tent door.  “We have a job to do.”  He stiffened, and Gerraint could not even guess what might be running through Arthur’s mind.  “We can’t run away,” Arthur said, and he lead twelve hundred men into the wilderness of Caledonia.

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TOMORROW: Cat Coit Celidon. Don’t miss it.

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R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 1 of 2

It almost took less time than Arthur thought before the sons of Caw came charging out of the north.  The Scots made no effort to stop them.  They dared not.  Loth and Kai were hard pressed to keep a safe zone for twenty miles around their forts and hundreds of people flocked there while thousands fled South, to York. Outside of those forts, the Picts had free reign, and they slaughtered whole villages and burned farms to the ground with the people inside the farmhouses.

Things balanced a little when the RDF arrived after the first month.  The RDF, particularly out of York, saved hundreds of people, and fought the Picts about even, with losses at first on both sides.  By the time Arthur got on the way, the RDF started gaining at Pict expense, particularly the men from York who had spent much of their time surveying the land to become familiar with the terrain.

With Arthur’s arrival, the Picts went back above the wall and took all the loot they collected up until then.  There were oxen, wagons, horses, sheep and cattle, and there were tons of farm implements, hoes and plows, and even some gold and silver. All Arthur had to see was the burned remains of one family, burned alive in their own home, and he became uncontrollable.  It took until the end of the day before he was able to talk.

“We are going to Caledonia,” he said softly. Everyone hushed to hear him.  “We are going above the Antonine wall.  If no one wants to go with me, I will go alone.” He walked off.

“Even the Romans never dared enter the Celidon Forest.  There are ghosts and terrible monsters up there.”  Bedwyr summed up what everyone thought.

“There are,” Gerraint agreed, his eyes fastened on Arthur’s receding back.  “But this time the ghosts and terrible monsters will be fighting on our side.”  People looked at him like he might be as mad as Arthur, but at least Percival and Uwaine smiled.

Twelve hundred men were brave enough to follow Arthur into the wild north.  Mostly, they were RDF and members of the Round Table, but some were men who lost homes and loved ones.  Arthur left the rest of the army at Edinburgh, Guinnon, and York in case some Picts circled around and tried to come back, “Or if the Scots get restless,” Loth said.

Then it became a simple matter to march north. The Scots stepped aside.  The Picts had been wild and angry, but these men showed something on their faces and in their silence that felt far more frightening.

In the afternoon, the army reached the northern wall. The men and squires set camp while Arthur, Gerraint and Percival climbed that portion of the Antonine wall where the stones still stood.  The forest that started some distance away looked shrouded in a strange mist, more like a cloud that had fallen to the ground than an ordinary fog.  The sky seemed otherwise cloudless.  The stars would be out in the night, and the moon that looked nearly full would shine down on the world and light the way for weary travelers.

“This has gotten serious,” Gerraint said. Arthur nodded and looked to the northeast so the sun set at his back.

“They are mostly in the east,” Arthur said. “The city of the high chief is on the east coast.  The islands and western wilds have begun to fill up with Ulsterites.”

“Where did you hear that?” Percival asked.

“They made a mistake attacking the Norwegians along with the Britons south of here,” Gerraint explained.  “If it was not for the coastal watch, the Danes would have swallowed up Caledonia long ago.”

“Now they are inspired,” Arthur said.

Gerraint took a good look all the way around. Meryddin, defender of the Scots and Picts went missing, and that bothered him.  His little ones were anxious to help, but he was not convinced he would let them beyond guiding lights and bumps in the Pictish night. He felt afraid to let them get too close.  He feared what Meryddin would do if he captured one.

Percival said nothing.  He simply looked around with Gerraint before he got down and went to his tent.  After a moment, Arthur and Gerraint got down and went their ways.  The morning sun would dawn on a different world.

Deep in the night, Arthur heard a cry.  He thought at first that it might be a sheep or goat trapped in a twist of briars. He heard it again and thought it might be a songbird disturbed in the night.  On the third call, he sprang out of bed.  It might have been Picts sneaking up on the camp, but this sounded like a woman in distress.  He snuck out to the wall where the mist had fallen over all the open ground and slowly crept over the wall.  Arthur hesitated, but then he heard the woman again and he understood the word, “Help.”

Once over the wall and covered in the thick fog, he had only his hearing and internal sense of direction to guide him. “Hello?”  He spoke softly in the hope of eliciting a response.  He shook his head several times.  The fog seemed to be penetrating his brain.  “Hello?”

“Arthur?”  The word struck him like a hammer and he lost all sense for a minute.  He knew the voice.  “Arthur?”

“Gwynyvar.”  He raised his voice, but in a moment, she fell into his arms and he held her tight. “How did you get here?  What are you doing here?”  He asked, but found his voice again in a whisper.  The fog seemed to require silence.

“Just hold me,” she said, and then she reached up and kissed him.  “The fog,” she tried to explain something, but he got busy kissing her and his mind was not right.  He couldn’t think straight.  Her nightgown fell away and she tore at his clothes until they were naked in the mist beneath the moon.  They made love in silence and not a thought between them until something clinked nearby.

Arthur sat straight up.  “What is it?  Who is there?’  He saw a blue hand and then a blue face in the mist and he jumped back, reached for his sword, which he had abandoned on the ground, and he pulled Gwynyvar behind him. The face grinned a grin of stark yellow teeth, and the eyes were wide to show plenty of bloodshot white, but the man did not move.  Gerraint called out into the dark.  “Arthur, stay where you are.”

R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 3 of 3

Meryddin was not on board with this plan.  As much as Meryddin knew the Picts and Scots needed to be kept in their place, he preferred action against the Saxons, or the Irish.  The Scots, and for the most part the Picts still held to the old ways.  They had and respected the druids, and they respected Meryddin as a master druid.  Meryddin often argued that as long as the Scots and Picts stayed above the wall, they should be left alone.  And if they should come down below the wall, they should be subject to mercy and forgiveness.  Gerraint thought the argument a curious one coming from Meryddin, since the druids thought of forgiveness as weakness, and they did not believe in mercy.

Thomas moved his fat and slow merchant ships into the mouth of the Clyde and lashed them together to form a wall.  Gerraint called it a blockade.  Thomas, who walked with a slight limp ever since the battle of the rebellion, had plenty of stout men and plenty of catapults that could heave stones or burning pitch and tar at any ship that tried to come downriver.  He kept Arthur’s swifter, more warship design out from the wall to pursue anyone who broke through and tried to run for it.

Arthur came up on the fort in the night and settled in quietly while he moved some men around to the back of the fort to attack the Saxon and Pictish ships in the dark.  There were eight Saxon long boats and more than twenty Pictish coastal ships anchored in the river or pulled partly up on the bank.  He knew ships could be rebuilt, that it was the men he had to worry about, but he also knew ships could carry men to safety and he needed to take away that option.

The guards on the river were few and not very alert.  Still, it took time avoiding them.  Confrontation risked one of them crying out and waking the fort.  Men swam out and crawled up on to the ships anchored in the river.  Others hid behind the boats on the bank, and waited.  When Arthur’s patience ran out, he signaled the three men in the trees. They lit their torches and waved them back and forth.  Moments later, the sound of chopping echoed up and down the river, and one by one, the ships became ablaze with fire.  The guards on the river were taken out, mostly with arrows, but the men in the fort came awake and began shouting, everywhere.

On the land side of the fort, Gerraint let loose the dozen specially constructed catapults.  They fired a great metal clamp attached to a long, knotted rope. Two fell short.  One made it over the wall but did not catch on anything, so it pulled away.  Two made it and caught.  After a quick tug, men began to climb the ropes.  The sixth stuck fast to the lumber that made the walls, the whole fort being made of logs.  The men who tugged on the rope to be sure the hook would hold them heard the sound of ripping wood.  Gerraint quickly grabbed a dozen men to help, and they all pulled, and pulled with all their might.  That log, and the three to either side of it began to pull away from the rest of the wall.

“Altogether!” Gerraint yelled, and one big final yank and the logs broke free and crashed to the ground.  The logs were pushed into a bog on that end and rotted.  Men still had to climb over the lower parts, but soon enough they flooded into the fort.  The Picts and Saxons put up a good fight, but they were not prepared and got killed at the rate of about three to one. When the men came pouring in from the riverside, the fighting did not last long.  Arthur lost some hundred and fifty men in the end; all the dead and dying. The enemy lost closer to four hundred and only about two hundred finally surrendered and begged for mercy.

Arthur did not show mercy.  He made sure Caw, the Pictish leader and Hueil, the Saxon pirate were dead.  Then he hung every last man in that fort, letting only the old Scottish woman who did the cooking go home.  He sent her off with the three babies he found.  Anyone twelve and over got hung, and so did the women who were not there to cook, the ones he imagined were the mothers of those children.

Last of all, Arthur left a note nailed to the main door of the fort’s version of a Great Hall, and a second copy nailed to the front gate.  It said, “Stay out of Britain, Wales and Cornwall.  No more warnings.”  He signed it and brought his men back south.

Thomas met him at fort Guinnon.  “Uncle Durwood is going to be upset at the loss of three of his best ships.”  A Saxon long boat and some six Pictish coastal craft broke through the blockade and headed for the sea.  Thomas damaged them all and sank three of the Pictish craft, and without losing one of Arthur’s ships, but the long boat and three of the Pictish ships managed to limp away.

“Maybe we can work something out,” Arthur said in a sour voice.  He had not been in a good mood since the battle.  The decision to hang all of those men, pirates though they were, came hard for him.  It was not like battle.  He found no glory in condemning prisoners.

“I have been thinking about that,” Thomas said with a bit of a grin.  “I got a good look at those Saxon long boats and I believe I can greatly improve the design of your warships.  As they become available, Uncle Durwood might be willing to take some of your older ones in exchange for his loses.  That way you can spend your money on new and better ships rather than compensating my Uncle.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Kai said brightly.

Arthur said nothing.  That was what they did, but Arthur became convinced that now all he did was tempt the Picts to mount a real war.  When he sent his men home, he told them all, personally, to be prepared for a quick recall.

“Surely, they have learned their lesson,” the men said, but Arthur could only shake his head, sadly.

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MONDAY

Meryddn is revealed, just what part of him is not human, and Arthur leads his men north into the wild Pictish wilderness in Cat Coit Celidon.  Until Monday,

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R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 2 of 3

One time, Uwaine got kidnapped and all of their equipment taken by a Saxon raiding party of about thirty men.  They thought to hold the squire hostage for gold, believing that all British Lords were covered with gold.  Gerraint had gone into the village to trade, but when he got back, he soon realized what happened, and he became terribly worried even as he got terribly angry.  The Princess tracked the raiding party for three days.  Gerraint admitted the Princess, being specially gifted by Artemis herself, could track a man across linoleum with her eyes shut.  No one knew what he was talking about, but they got the idea.

After three days, she found Uwaine hold up in a cave, his hands holding tight to his sword.  Deerrunner and a half-dozen elves were with him and had their bows out. Half of the raiding party died, shot through with only one arrow each, such was the skill of the elves, but the other half hunkered down behind some boulders at the bottom of the hill of the cave. They appeared to be arguing about whether to burn the boy out or just wait until he starved.

The Princess arrived in time to find Bogus and two dozen dwarfs sneaking up from behind.  The Princess had no doubt they meant to finish the job the elves started. She put her hands to her hips, tapped her foot sharply and let out an “Ahem!” to clear her throat.  The dwarfs turned around, whipped off their hats, or in this case helmets, and looked down, shy.  A few shuffled one foot or the other against the dirt.

When the Princess stepped forward, Gerraint came home and shouted to the Saxons to get everyone’s attention.  “Go home.”  He thought that sounded nice and succinct.  “Gather up your dead and go back to Sussex, poorer, but hopefully wiser.”

One man stood and reached for his sword, but Gerraint had taken to wearing his sword across his back, Kairos style, and he could draw it fast as a gunslinger, and without cutting his own ear, he was pleased to say.  He had Salvation out and at the man’s throat before the man got a full grip on his hilt.

“Go home,” Gerraint repeated, and two dozen well-armed dwarfs, helmets back on, came to the edge of the woods and gave the meanest stares they could muster.  Gerraint struggled not to laugh at some of the faces.  The Saxons did not laugh at all.  They gathered their dead as quickly as they could and rode off into the distance even as Bedwyr, Gawain, Percival and his squire, Agravain and a dozen men, Arthur’s men from the local village, came riding up led by Pinewood, of all people, and on horseback.  Granted, it was all an illusion, but still, in Gerraint’s mind he seemed a tiny little fairy riding a great big warhorse.

“Gerraint,” Bedwyr spouted.  “We heard you were in trouble, that Uwaine got kidnapped by Saxons.”

“All fixed now,” Gerraint said, and went into his litany.  “I have wings to fly you know nothing of.  Eyes that see farther, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Percival almost joined him on the last line, but Gerraint said wait here and he climbed to the cave.  Uwaine stood there and Deerrunner had his hand on the young man’s shoulder.  Uwaine turned quickly and hugged the Elf King.

“Thank you,” Uwaine whispered, and Deerrunner smiled before he looked over Uwaine’s shoulder.

“I thought you misplaced him,” Deerrunner said, as a kind of excuse.

“Yes, thank you,” Gerraint said, not unkindly, and he took Uwaine’s hand and brought him down to the others where they found a deer already cooking and a big keg of very fine dwarf-made ale.

“I see they abandoned their supper,” Percival smiled.

Gerraint grumped and found their horses, cleaned and saddled and in wonderful shape.  “Thank you Gumblittle,” he said, to nobody.  He also found all of their things in a stack along with a bunch of Saxon equipment.  He put his arm around Uwaine’s shoulder to explain, quietly.

“The little ones normally don’t pay much attention to human affairs.  They were probably not certain about what was ours and what was Saxon.  They tend to overcompensate.”  Uwaine nodded as they rejoined the group.

“They grow up fast.”  Bedwyr, already breaking into the keg, was good at stating the obvious.

Gerraint looked up at the sky and shouted in better spirits, “Thank you.  Now, go home.”

“What was that about?” Young Agravain asked.

“Better not to ask,” Gawain said.

“You don’t want to know,” Uwaine added.

Gerraint and Uwaine went north along with everybody else to celebrate Loth and Gwenhwyfach’s wedding.  Gawain went, of course, Loth being his father.  He was not sure about his new mother, in part because she was only about four years older than him, but he stayed good about it and never said anything except to Bedwyr, Gerraint and his friend, Uwaine.

During the wedding, Kai caught Arthur’s attention. The Saxon Pirate, Hueil, had been raiding the Welsh coast for years, all the way from the channel that separated Wales and Cornwall, to the tip of the North Irish Sea.  Now, rumor said he started talking with Pictish raiders who had long since given up their coastal watch and had become something like pirates themselves.

“Such a union would be a disaster,” Kai noted.

“We do not have a fleet of ships,” Arthur said.

“Maybe we need a fleet of ships,” Kai responded.

Early in 504, Thomas of Dorset got drafted to Admiral Arthur’s six new ships.  He also brought a dozen ships from the English Channel, all solid sea going vessels, though admittedly fat and slow merchant ships.  They were to sail up the coast of Wales, looking out for Hueil along the way, and arrive in the bay of the Clyde by September first.  Arthur would cross north of Hadrian’s wall on the same date and eventually link up with his fleet.  Hueil and his Saxons had made a bargain with Caw, whom Arthur had not realized had survived the destruction of the army of the Picts and Scots several years earlier.  Those two scoundrels had built their own fort at Cambuslang, just on the River Clyde, and Arthur determined to end that threat.

Arthur housed a thousand men at Kai’s Fort Guinnon, the anchor to the wall, to act as reserves and to protect the north lands should things go awry.  He feared the Picts might invade south, thinking Arthur was occupied.  Arthur took a second thousand men with him, mostly RDF and trained men, and then he prayed a lot more than usual.

R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 1 of 3

The year 500 ended much better than it began. In fact, three years of relative peace followed the marriage of Arthur and Gwynyvar.  Percival and Tristam both went off to do penance for what they called their failure to keep the king of Ireland safe, and while no one else called it a failure, they were determined to make some kind of amends.

Arthur could not worry about that.  He got to thinking instead about the lesson the Irish taught him.  He knew horsemen with spears could be a danger, but they never had a real horse on horse confrontation before.  Arthur also suspected that it would only be a matter of time before others started making lances and training their people how to use them.  So, with that in mind, Arthur made some practice lances with hard, cushioned ends, the way they built training staffs for children.  Then he had the men face each other and learn how to effectively use their shields, direct their horses, and how to make the best hit on their enemy.  Gerraint felt pleased.  He thought the legend started shaping up very nicely, and more than once he said it would be the middle ages before they knew it.  Arthur reminded him that he was weird.

There were a few strained months in 501 when Badgemagus died and Mesalwig temporarily lost all sense.  He kidnapped Gwynyvar and kept her in his fort at Glastonbury for three months.  He told Arthur that Gwynyvar should have been his, and in the end, Goreu had to get involved in securing her release.  But by Gwynyvar’s own testimony, Mesalwig treated her well, always respected her, and never laid a finger on her.  He just cried himself to sleep every night, and because of that she pleaded with Arthur to forgive him.

“These last few years have been very hard for him. He lost his father to a Saxon sword and his mother to the flu.  He no more got over that when his sister died in that terrible accident on the farm. His whole family is gone.  He has no wife to comfort him, and he is convinced that you and the other members of the Round Table hate him and want nothing to do with him.  He is such a lost and poor lonely soul.  When his former master Badgemagus passed away, he lost all reason.  He knew right away that what he did was wrong, but he felt stuck.  He did not know what he could do to make it okay again.”

Arthur turned to Mesalwig who cried softly and tried so hard to hold back the tears.  “And if I forgive you as Gwynyvar wants, what will you do with yourself?”

Mesalwig slowly looked up.  “I think I will try some of that penance that Percival and Tristam talk about.  I was thinking of helping women in distress, or imprisoned against their will.  I only hope I can forgive and show mercy as I have been shown.”

“Defending the weak and helpless is one of the ideals of the Round Table,” Arthur said and Gwynyvar hit him in the arm, though not too hard.  “Of course, there are plenty of women who are not exactly helpless.”

“Indeed,” Mesalwig almost smiled.  Apparently in those months, he learned that lesson.

“Damsels in distress,” Gerraint called it, and he ducked and walked off whistling.

Gerraint took ever faithful Uwaine of few words out into the wilds.  Most squires moved in with their Lords, almost like being in boarding school. They got to visit their own home and parents once or twice a year, but mostly they lived away from home and learned about life from their teacher, one on one.  Gerraint, of course, had no home as far as he was concerned.  He visited Cordella twice and his mother once during those years, but his base of operations was Caerleon.  He felt he had nowhere else to go.

Even so, he saw little of Arthur when he took rooms in the village, which was becoming quite the little town, but then, he spent most of the time in the wilderness, dragging poor Uwaine all over the country.  He ran into Tristam and Percival now and then.  They reached the age to be knighted and soon found squires of their own. Gerraint and Uwaine also traveled with Bedwyr and young Gawain now and then.  Gawain and Uwaine became close friends in the process, and Gerraint realized that the “youngsters” were both roughly the age Arthur was when he pulled Caliburn from the stone.  They visited plenty of Lords and towns and slept in plenty of beds, but as often as not they stayed out in the wild.

Gerraint taught Uwaine how to hunt and fish and how to trap animals for the skins to trade or use against winter.  He taught what he had been taught, what plants were for eating and what plants were poisonous and to be avoided.  And of course, he taught Uwaine to defend himself. They had practice swords and knives, spears and lances, crossbows, maces and other instruments of combat; and Gerraint made sure the young man learned how to defend himself no matter what weapon got turned against him, even if he had no weapon in his hand.  Bogus the Dwarf insisted on teaching the boy the beauties of the Ax, and Uwaine picked it up pretty well for a human, Bogus said. Pinewood and Deerrunner got very frustrated trying to teach the lad how to shoot a straight arrow.  They concluded that no one was going to be good at everything.

Gerraint, or Goreu, as Uwaine learned to call him at times, made a real effort to limit Uwaine’s exposure to the bizarre world of the Kairos.  He never called to his armor, the armor of the Kairos, and never called to any special weapons apart from Salvation, his sword, and Defender, his long knife. Instead, he contented himself with the armor and weapons of the times and in that way tried to fit into the times for Uwaine’s sake.  Apart from Bogus, Pinewood and Deerrunner, Gumblittle the gnome taught them all about the care and feeding of horses, but that was it.  Goreu knew exposure to that sort of thing would be best limited.

Uwaine met Greta, twice in those years, once when the only child of a poor widow fell from an apple tree and broke his leg. Uwaine got surprised, but said nothing as had become his habit.  The other time occurred when Gawain took a Saxon knife in his shoulder and Uwaine pleaded with his master.  Greta made Gawain good as new, as she called it.  Bedwyr said he was amazed by the woman’s skill, but only Uwaine knew she was really Goreu in another life.  Uwaine felt happy to have his friend back, but he made a mistake in the process.  He fell in love with Greta, and when he came of age, he almost never married.  Greta was never clear about how she felt, but in the end, she came to trust Uwaine implicitly, like the best of brothers.  She could at least return his love that much.

R5 Gerraint: Gwynyvar, part 3 of 3

When Arthur came back he appeared all smiles. Gerraint held his tongue, but Percival could not help it.  “Did you hold her hand?  Did you kiss her?  Are you going to marry her?”

Arthur shook his head before he spoke.  “She is the most brilliant and sensitive and lovely woman I have ever met.  I told her the truth, the whole truth.”

“What?”  Percival looked stunned.

“What if the old lady tells Leodegan?” Gerraint asked the practical question, because he knew Arthur had not been allowed ten seconds alone with the girl.

“The lady said she had been keeping Gwynyvar’s secrets since she was born and saw no reason to change now.”  Arthur sat up and got quiet.  Meryddin poked his head into the tent.

“Interrupting?” Meryddin said, and grinned like he knew something.

In the morning, everyone got somber.  They were very open about their intention to attack the Irish lines, and not one person said anything about joining them; not the horsemen who came to get a closer look at those lances, not the footmen who stood on the walls and watched from the gate, not Mesalwig or Badgemagus, who they finally decided had to be somewhere in hiding.  Ogryvan, when out from under his father’s eye, talked about the distant Arthur, who he only heard about, like he was some kind of a god, greater than Julius Caesar, greater than Alexander the Great, but even he made no mention of joining the war party.

“This will have to be a swift strike, in and out,” Arthur reminded them.  “Our chief weapon is surprise.  Let us not lose that advantage.”  He nodded, and the men who manned the gate opened it, but never let go.  They looked determined to close it as soon as they could.

Even as Arthur crossed the threshold, a great horn sounded that echoed throughout the fort and down into the valley.  The Irish all looked up at the very gate Arthur and company were exiting.

Percival figured it did not matter, so he yelled, “For Arthur!”

“For Arthur!” The men echoed as they raced toward their objective.

Up in the fort, both Ogryvan and Captain Cleodalis came running up to see who blew the horn of assembly.  Men stumbled out of their barracks, while others brought horses out of the barn.  Captain Cleodalis looked like a man facing disaster.  Ogryvan looked mad.  Gwynyvar stood there, hands on hips, ready to spit.  Gwenhwyfach stood right behind her, worried about Lord Lot.  The big blacksmith puffed away, though almost out of breath.

“Why are you blowing the horn?” Ogryvan yelled at his sister, but he knew better than to give full vent to his rage. “Stop that this instant.  I said stop it.”

“Keep blowing,” Gwynyvar said between gritted teeth. The blacksmith knew the score.  He kept blowing while Gwynyvar stepped up to Ogryvan and slapped his face, hard.  “You coward. And you,” She turned on the Captain who shrank before her fury.  “You sniveling coward.”

“Your father said let Lord Bassmas go.  He said win or lose, we still gain.”  Captain Cleodalis broke under the pressure of Gwynyvar’s stare.

“Bassmas?”  Gwynyvar did spit.  “What a stupid name.  That is Arthur, Pendragon, and you cowards are leaving him to fight alone.”  Ogryvan stopped rubbing his jaw long enough to stare at the locked gate.  “If Arthur dies, Arthur’s people will wreak such vengeance on this place, not one person will be left alive.  And if Arthur wins while Father stays safe behind his cowardly walls, Father will be lucky to live as a blind beggar the rest of his life.  How dare you…”  Gwynyvar stopped, but only because she could not think of words terrible enough.

“Captain Cleodalis!”  Leodegan showed up and roared.  He evidently heard something.  “Why aren’t you out there on the battlefield?”

“But you said…”

“Never mind what I said.  You better get out there and quick.  If you are too late, you won’t be too late for the headsman’s axe.”

Cleodalis ran and started yelling, “Go, go, go!” even before men were properly outfitted or the horses properly saddled.

Arthur’s men cut an easy path to the tent of the Irish King.  Once again, Gerraint got a glimpse of Meryddin’s illusion.  The man stayed back this time, on the castle wall, so he could focus his effort on his work, and Gerraint saw it, five hundred riders in place of fifty, and the Irish saw it too and moved aside, or were cut down.

Arthur, Kai and Bedwyr made short work of the few guards around the tent.  Tristam and Percival found the old king still sleeping in bed.  Loth disarmed Prince Marat, though the young man continued to rage threats until Bedwyr banged him on his noggin.  Bedwyr smiled.

“I once had a horse that I had to do that to get him to go.”

Gerraint alone kept his eyes on the surrounding fight. Many of Arthur’s men were coming up, ready to form a wedge around Arthur for the return trip to the fort, but the Irish were coming awake and getting organized.  The company counted on the fact that the Irish had fifteen hundred men, but they were spread fairly thin to circle the fort.  The men around the King’s tent did not number more than two hundred, not an impossible number for lancers and well trained horsemen.  But that condition would not last long.  The Irish started gathering.

“Surrender,” Arthur said.  “Tell your men to cease hostilities and throw down their arms.”

King Rience looked around at his dead guards and the strong, young men who held his arms, and bowed his head.  “Whom am I addressing?”

“I am Arthur, Pendragon of Wales, Cornwall and Britain, and by rights you and all of your invading friends should be hung as pirates.”

“I yield, Arthur Pendragon,” the old man said and bowed his head again before he shoved Percival away and grabbed at Percival’s sword in the process.  Percival kept his sword, and Tristam slipped his knife into the king’s chest before he thought about what he was doing.  The king did not linger as Tristam’s blow cut the heart.  Prince Marat screamed, and since Bedwyr made sure the young man had been disarmed, Loth let him go to his father where he fell down and wailed.

“We need to go,” Gerraint yelled into the tent. The foot soldiers appeared to be waiting for more distant reinforcements, but a party of some thirty horsemen with spears looked ready to charge.  Gerraint jumped up on his horse and called, “RDF.  Form up.”  Gerraint took one second to lean over to Uwaine and Gawain and yell.  “Stay here.”  Then he charged, before the Irishmen could get fully organized.

To be sure, Arthur’s men killed or wounded or at least knocked the thirty Irish right off their horses.  The RDF suffered three casualties and twice as many wounded, but then they were able to return to protect Arthur even as the gates in the fort opened and men began to stream out.

Loth, Kai and Bedwyr packed up Arthur and Prince Marat and led the way back to the fort, the body of King Rience draped over a spare horse.  Some of the Irish saw and immediately headed back toward their distant ships.  Many of the Irish continued to fight bravely and there were casualties on both sides.  Given the time and the thirty lances Gerraint became able to train on group after group of the enemy, the Irish finally surrendered.  When Gerraint left the cleanup to Leodegan’s men and rode back into the fort, he found Gwynyvar and Arthur kissing.  She was afraid he was going to die.  Gerraint imagined he just wanted to kiss her.

Later that evening, Arthur, Gerraint, Loth, Kai and Meryddin walked again into the great hall, Arthur holding tight to Gwynyvar’s hand.  Leodegan came out from his chair to fall to his knees.  He dared not say anything.

Arthur looked around the hall, casually. Badgemagus sat there with his foot up on a stool.  His gout looked really bad, and that explained his absence up until then. Mesalwig sat with him, and so did Ogryvan.  Once they lead the men out from the fort, they acquitted themselves well, so Arthur had no complaints.  Gwenhwyfach stood by her father’s chair, trembling.  She wanted to run out to Loth but did not dare.  Curiously, everyone knew Loth would have accepted her and no one would have complained, but she was young.  Captain Cleodalis sat at the table, trembling, but Arthur decided that he was Leodegan’s headache.  Meryddin went over to stand beside the druid when Arthur spoke.

“Stand up, Lord Leodegan.  This is your lucky day.  I just can’t think bad thoughts about the father of my bride.”

Leodegan got up and his face visibly brightened. “I know you are Arthur, the Pendragon. Who else could defeat the whole Irish army with just fifty men.”  And so, things were settled with a feast, and while Arthur kissed Gwynyvar, Loth took Leodegan into a back room for a private talk.

************************

MONDAY…yes, returning now to the regular schedule of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 8AM

so … MONDAY, R5 Gerraint.  Peace is nice for a while, but the Picts and the Saxon raiders and pirates appear to be building something, and no one wants those two working together.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R5 Gerraint: Gwynyvar, part 2 of 3

“Father?  We have company?”  two young women came tumbling out of the tower door.  They were followed by three older women who Gerraint imagined in the future would be called ladies in waiting.  Gerraint also imagined that one of those ladies had been waiting a long time.

“Gwynyvar, come give your old father a kiss.”  She did, but her eyes never left Arthur. “And Gwenhwyfach, my baby.”  She also offered a kiss on her father’s cheek, but her eyes were eating Loth, a man twice her age, and Loth did not seem to mind. Gerraint thought it must be Loth’s long, straggly blond hair.  He did have a bit of a Saxon look about him.

“Are you going to introduce us?” Gwynyvar asked.

“My daughters, Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach” Leodegan said.  “Meryddin you know.”

Both girls nodded their heads but lost their smiles.

“These others are Lord Bassmas, leader of the men newly arrived, Lord Goreu, Lord Lot, and, I beg your pardon,”

“Cecil.”  Unfortunately for Kai, Meryddin remembered.

“Lord Bassmas.”  Gwynyvar clearly liked his look but did not sound thrilled with his name.

“Lord Lot?” Gwenhwyfach tried to mirror her sister, but Leodegan caught it.

“Gwenhwyfach is the younger.  She is sixteen.  Gwynyvar is my eldest, full grown at eighteen and at the center of this trouble.”

“I cannot imagine her at the center of any trouble,” Arthur said, and watched Gwynyvar turn red.  “But do tell the story so that we may know what we are willing to die for.”

Leodegan nodded and waved for everyone to sit.  Of course, he did not mean the girls who stood at the two sides of Leodegan’s chair, and the ladies who stood a step back. Meryddin pushed in front of Arthur. Gerraint let Loth and Kai in front of him, which put Loth next to the druid.  Gerraint sat on the end and faced Arthur.

“It was about fifteen years ago.”

“Fourteen years, father.” Gwynyvar whispered loudly, like her father might be going deaf.  “Five years after Uther died.”

“Ah yes.  It was fourteen years ago King Rience sent an invitation to visit him at Tara, in Ireland.  He invited all of the Welsh lords from the coast, and I, and two others accepted. He mentioned the Irish pirates and wanting to put a stop to them and instead build good relations with what he called his cousins across the sea.  I remember Gwynyvar turned four or so.  Gwenhwyfach was definitely two and kept her mother busy.  Her mother was alive in those days, before the flu took her…  I remember Rience was very taken with Gwynyvar who he called beautiful as a fairy queen.”

Arthur nodded, and Gwynyvar saw and looked away before she turned red again.

Leodegan continued.  “Thinking on it, I don’t know what his real plan was, but he seemed to hit on a plan that involved getting me stinking drunk.  He talked about marrying his young son Marat and my daughter Gwynyvar when they came of age.  I thought he was joking.  I was passing out drunk.  But now that Gwynyvar has turned eighteen, Rience has come to collect.  It started with letters, you know.  He cannot have my daughter.”

“I agree,” Arthur said.  “A cause worth dying for, but one better to live for.” Gwynyvar looked at Arthur and had a different look in her eyes.  It appeared like longing and just a little hope.

“What about the Brit from Somerset, Mesalwig?” Ogryvan asked.

“Yes,” Leodegan laughed a little.  “Lord Badgemagus brought him here to woo for Gwynyvar’s hand.”  Gwynyvar made a face and shook her head for Arthur.  “Now he has gotten caught here with the arrival of the Irish army.”

“So, tell me,” Arthur got suddenly serious, not wanting to get too distracted.  “What of the forts along the coast that Uther built against piracy?”

“Still there, I suppose.  They were not built to withstand an army.”

“No,” Arthur agreed.  “But one of them better be burnt to the ground.  If they got paid to look the other way and let Rience just walk in here with his whole army, I will burn them to the ground myself.”

“Yes, I see,” Leodegan turned thoughtful.  “But now that the Irish are here, my Captain says there is nothing we can do.  We are running out of options.  I sent messages to Caerleon to appeal to the pendragon for help, but I don’t know if any got through the Irish lines.”

“We have options,” Kai said.

“We got through,” Loth said at the same time, with a glance at Gwenhwyfach who presently looked fetchingly shy.

“Fifty well-armed men got through,” Ogryvan pointed out.  Gerraint had his eyes on Captain Cleodalis by then.  He guessed the Captain was good at running a fort and maintaining discipline among the troops, but when it came to battle he got completely lost.  His men would defend the walls, but attack would not be on his list of things to do.

“Very well,” Arthur stood, so his men stood with him. “Lend me Captain Cleodalis and Ogryvan. We need to take a walk on the walls and see where we can find weaknesses in the Irish lines.”  He turned and walked to the door.  Gerraint went with him, but he looked back, since Arthur refused to look back.  Arthur started going overboard on sounding decisive and confident, and Gwynyvar had her hand over her heart.

Once out the door, Gerraint got to whisper. “So, are you going to marry her here or take her back to Caerleon?”  Arthur hit Gerraint in the arm and Gerraint said, “ouch,” but Arthur smiled.  Then Ogryvan, and finally Captain Cleodalis caught up and they climbed to the top of the fort wall.  Arthur, Loth and Kai all pointed out serious flaws in the way the Irish laid their siege, beginning with the road they so easily came up. Gerraint remained quiet until at last, he asked one question.

“Where is Rience located?”

“There.” Ogryvan pointed.  “That big green tent with the different flags.”

“So, that is our objective,” Gerraint said. The others basically understood, but waited.  “I have it on good authority that a snake is not worth much without a head.”

“There are no snakes in Ireland,” Captain Cleodalis objected.

“Then they should not have come here,” Arthur said. “We have snakes in Britain, and we know how to deal with them.”

That afternoon got spent preparing for a morning attack.  Horses got extra attention, weapons were sharpened, armor got cleaned and polished. Gerraint had been called to talk to the squires when one of the ladies from the tower came to speak to Lord Bassmas.

“What does she want?” Arthur wondered.

“I don’t know,” Gerraint said with a sly grin. “You’re the bass master.  Maybe she wants to know how to catch a fish.” Gerraint paused.  That got spoken half in British and half in an English that would not exist for a thousand years.

“Weird,” Arthur said as they stepped out of the tent.

The old woman curtsied.  “Your pardon.  My Lady Gwynyvar has composed certain questions about the defense of her people and her home and wonders if the kind lord may attend her and give answer.”

“He would be delighted,” Gerraint spoke first, and gave Arthur a little shove.  Arthur gave him a mean look, but at least this time he kept his fist to himself.

“I suppose I can take a small break from our preparations.  I will do my best to answer whatever questions the lady may have, at the lady’s convenience.”  He followed her and Gerraint thought, henceforth everything will be at the lady’s convenience.  Arthur might as well get used to that right from the beginning.

Gerraint stepped over to where the squires gathered. Ederyn and Bedwyr were there to assist as they might be needed with a group of unruly teenagers.  “Listen up,” he began.  “Tomorrow morning, we will be riding out to kick some Irish butt.”

“What?” Tristam didn’t follow.

“Hopefully, kick it right back to Ireland where it came from.”

“Weird,” Percival mumbled.  At Nineteen, he stood at the back of the crowd with Urien while most of the younger ones were seated.

“I have no doubt that Percival, Urien and Tristam will fight bravely, whatever the odds.  To be honest, a young man is not much of a squire after eighteen anyway. But there are a couple of thousand screaming, wild Irishmen out there and we are only fifty, not counting you squires.”  Gerraint paused and got serious for a moment.  “Truth is, we may all die tomorrow.  You young ones should not be part of that.  You haven’t had the time and training to know your left hand from your right, much less how to kill a man. And that is what it means.  You have to be willing and able to kill a man. Son.”  He looked straight at Uwaine.  “Killing and trying not to be killed takes a man’s full measure and concentration.  I won’t have one second to watch over you and protect you.”  And he thought, but if you go out there, my worry for you might get me killed.  He did not say that, because he knew the squires would make up their own minds, and in the end their Lords could not stop them—even as Gerraint and Arthur and Percival made their own decisions.  It was an important part of growing up.

“Come on,” Gerraint waved to Ederyn and Bedwyr to follow and leave the young ones alone for a while.  Ederyn patted Gerraint on the shoulder in support of what he said.  Bedwyr had a different take.

“I never thought of it that way before,” he said. “I mean the part about killing and not being killed.”

Gerraint had his ears turned behind and heard Uwaine ask, “So do we saddle our horses now or wait until morning?”

R5 Gerraint: Gwynyvar, part 1 of 3

Meryddin specially selected the group of men to accompany Arthur to Wales.  He called them volunteers and he made sure they volunteered.  To be fair, he only selected men from the RDF who had no wives or children to go home to.  Most of those were young, but not all.  Most of the old Lords he sent home with their squires, but some of the young Lords and their squires came along.  Bedwyr, Kai and Loth joined them, and willingly, but only after they all made it clear that they should be home checking on the disposition of the enemy.

The fort of Leodegan looked impressive.  It sat on the top of a hill above a village.  The deserted village streamed down the hillside and nestled in the valley below.  The fort itself, made mostly stone and in the Roman style, had a large, empty front court where troops could gather, and several smaller courtyards around the buildings, the Great Hall, and the main tower connected to the Great Hall where Leodegan and his family lived.

Kai remarked that the Irish would have a hard time breaking into such a solid looking structure.  Bedwyr responded with a laugh.  “All the Welsh have are hills and stone.”

“And Pig-headedness,” Loth added.

Meryddin turned in the saddle to talk to the whole group.  “Leodegan is a firm believer in the old ways.  His son, Ogryvan is a good son, but his daughters, Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach have followed after their mother in the ways of the church.  Their mother died a few years back from the flu.  It does not make for a peaceful household, but Leodegan allows for the church as long as it is only the women.  I think, if we would help this man in his struggle, it might be wise for you to disguise your faith and who you are.  You can be plain Britons who heard of the trouble and have come to help.”

“I am not ashamed of my faith.” Nineteen-year-old Percival spoke right up, and twenty-year-old Tristam stood right there with him, though by rights, the squires should have remained silent.  “I will not pretend to be a pagan to satisfy an old man.”

“Son.  No one said pretend to be pagan,” Ederyn interjected.  “But maybe we can keep our faith under wraps for the time being and not be so obvious about it.”

“I like the idea of not telling them who we are,” Gerraint took the interruption to add his thoughts.  “I nominate Arthur for the name Bumrats.”  A few of the men snickered.

“And we should call Goreu, Mister Weird,” Arthur said, and smiled a little.

“Now listen.”  Meryddin had not finished.  “Leodegan was not part of the rebellion, but he supported it.  Since then, he sent a token of men to fight at the River Glen, but this time he sent nothing.”

“I can see why,” Bedwyr said.  “Must be the whole Irish army.”

“I can see a hole at the head of the road,” Arthur said.  “Lances,” and he started down the hill before anyone else, but the others caught up soon enough.

Meryddin shouted, “Remember the pretense,” but it became impossible for anyone to hear him.

When Arthur’s troop hit the road, Gerraint caught a glimpse of what the Irish were seeing.  Somehow, Meryddin made fifty men look like three hundred.  The Irish scattered to get out of the way and they did not have the sense or the time to so much as grab a bow and arrows. Several were run through, but most went to ground so the fifty passed through the blockade of the road with little trouble.  At the gate, at the top of the hill, the guards on the wall watched the action.  More than one recognized Meryddin as well, so the gate opened to let them in before it got slammed shut once again.

They found tents and lean-tos all over the main courtyard of the fort.  The village people who could not escape into the wilderness, and who were still alive, had set up homes behind the stout fort walls.  Meryddin guided Arthur’s group to a separate court by the sea gate—the one that pointed in the direction of the sea, though it was too far away to actually see, being hidden by the distant hills.  Meryddin unkindly threw the people out who huddled there and said, “Set camp here where we can keep a good eye on the Irish hordes.”

Most of the men were unhappy with the unchristian treatment of the poor locals, but only Arthur dared speak.  “That was unnecessary and unacceptable. These poor people are the ones we have come to defend and protect.”  The men were already making camp, but they looked as Meryddin shrugged off the scolding.  The deed was done.

Gerraint nudged Arthur and pointed.  They saw two young female faces at the nearby window in the tower beside the Great Hall.  They appeared to smile before they vanished into the inside.

“So?” Arthur said, but quickly looked away. Gerraint noticed.

Meryddin returned from fetching Loth, Kai and Bedwyr. They expected men to come and fetch Meryddin and the leaders of this new group of fighters any minute, so Meryddin spoke fast.  “Percival, Ederyn and the squires need to stay here.  Bedwyr too, since your face may be known.”

“Don’t worry,” Bedwyr said.  “I’ll keep Gawain and Uwaine at their tasks.”  Gawain, Loth’s son by his deceased wife, a thirteen-year-old squired to Bedwyr.

“They remind me of two young scamps that used to follow me around,” Ederyn said with a nudge in Percival’s arm.

Percival smiled at Gerraint and Arthur.  “Don’t worry,” he said.

“Loth, Kai, Arthur and Gerraint are not known by these Lords, only Gerraint, try to look big and mean and keep your mouth shut,” Meryddin mused.  “You are much too bright for these people.”

“A compliment?”  Arthur looked shocked.

“What?” Gerraint said.  “Did Christ return and nobody told me?”

Meryddin frowned, but the others grinned when they got interrupted by a man in a long tunic with a hill painted on the front.

“Mesalwig,” Arthur recognized the man.  “Is Badgemagus here?”  Mesalwig, from Glastonbury, squired to Badgemagus in his youth.

“He is,” Mesalwig said before Meryddin grabbed him and guided him off for a private conference.  Meryddin came back alone just when the escort of guards arrived from the great hall.

“They will say nothing,” Meryddin reported. “Mesalwig is here wooing Gwynyvar, Leodegan’s elder daughter.”

“Good luck with that,” Gerraint mumbled, before they walked in silence.

The great hall had a large dais raised a good two feet above the rest of the floor, but Leodegan sat at the end of the center table down below.  Arthur and Gerraint stopped at the other end of the long table and Loth and Kai stopped a few steps behind.  Loth and Kai looked at the poor decor, though they may have been counting the guards stationed here and there around the room.  Gerraint counted the four doors.  Besides the main doors, there was a postern door close, but to the side, that probably also lead outside.  The one in the back on his right likely lead to back rooms in the Great Hall, and to the kitchens.  The one to his left had to be connected to the tower.

Arthur kept his eyes on the old man the whole time.

“Meryddin, my old friend.” Leodegan sounded gracious. “You have come and brought help in my time of need.  All thanks to the Mother Danna.”

“Indeed,” Meryddin said.  “Allow me to introduce the leader of this band, Lord Bassmas and his shield and strong right arm Lord Goreu of Cornwall.  Most call him Wyrd.”  Merlin mispronounced the word.  “These others are Lords of the north who have come to fight the Irish menace.”

“Lord Lot,” Loth interrupted, so Kai had to think fast.

“Lord Cecil,” he said, and regretted it as soon as it escaped his lips.

“My Captain Cleodalis and my Druid Julius,” Leodegan quickly introduced the men to his left and right, as his eyes seemed glued to Arthur.  Gerraint noticed the druid bowed to Meryddin.  He remained seated, but it was a bow all the same. “Tell me,” Leodegan sounded suspicious. “You wear the dragon on your tunic.”

“In honor of my father who fought as Uther’s right arm during the great wars.  Like Uther, he got poisoned in the end by Saxon treachery.”

Leodegan nodded, like he accepted that explanation, but then he turned on Gerraint.  “And Lord Goreu, I see you wear the lion of Cornwall.”  Meryddin stepped up, but Arthur spoke first.

“He says it is his right, but since Erbin died, he will not serve Marcus Adronicus, the Roman usurper, especially since Marcus is such a devout catholic.”

Leodegan nodded again and turned to the third man at the table, a young man beside Captain Cleodalis who Leodegan did not bother to introduce.  “What do you think, Ogryvan.  The big brute looks like a shield well made.”

Ogryvan, Leodegan’s son, stood and faced Gerraint. The young man stood about five-ten and had broad shoulders besides, which made him a bit of a clunk. Gerraint appeared slimmer, no doubt in better shape, and that suggested speed and grace, plus he stood two inches taller.  Gerraint exaggerated the notion of looking down on Ogryvan, and he growled, pleased that he practiced that.  Ogryvan’s face did not change, but the man did shuffle back a half-step and Gerraint barely kept himself from bursting out laughing.

R5 Gerraint: Danes

“Heilbraun seems a good man,” Gerraint mentioned to Arthur as the two rode side by side in the evening.  One flaw in the plan was the lancers, which included the knights, their squires and the RDF, had to swing around in the dark and be in position by dawn.

“He is, and not terribly old yet,” Arthur agreed. “But he must have some persuasive counselors to push him into war.”  The leading lights, the fairy lights Pinewood provided, curved in to enter the back of the forest.  Come dawn, they would charge out the other side.  Arthur turned to the men behind him.  “Keep your eyes on the horse in front of you.  Pass it down the line.”

“What you are saying,” Gerraint continued.  “He must have his own version of Meryddin pushing and tugging him against his common sense.”

Arthur huffed.  He did not like that comparison, so they rode in silence through the trees.

At last, the fairy lights vanished and Arthur halted the column of riders.  Two of the lights then reappeared and came right up to face Gerraint and Arthur. They were two lovely women who Gerraint named as Rose and Mistletoe, and they had a report.

“The Norwegians in the woods are all dead. They got shotted full of arrows and moved away.”  Mistletoe covered her eyes like she did not want to remember.

“But the horses were all taken by the gnomes and given to Deerrunner,” Rose finished the thought.

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

“The elf King,” Gerraint answered softly.  “Go on”

“Bogus said to tell you the way is clear on the other side,” Rose went on.

“But now there are scardy dark elves keeping their strange eyes on the enemies,” Mistletoe said.

“Goblins,” Gerraint said, before Arthur could ask. “Thank you Missus Rose and Miss Mistletoe.  Now we have work to do, but not until morning.”  The fairies vanished, even as a rider came up dangerously fast in the dark.

“Where did they go?”  It was Meryddin.  He was supposed to be back helping to get the nags and riders ready, but obviously he snuck along.

“Where did who go?” Gerraint asked as Arthur dismounted and sent word down the line to keep quiet and move up into position.

Meryddin yanked his horse around and rode off at not quite so dangerous a speed.

Meryddin did not catch a little one during the engagement, but there were some close calls.  Poor Gerraint felt more worried about his charges than he felt about charging the enemy.  When it got to actually moving out of the woods, though, his mind focused on the task. He drew Salvation when he lost his lance in the back of a fat, fleeing Dane.  He watched as the Danish and British foot soldiers clashed, and the Danish line crumbled.  Too much of the line was moving sideways and getting in the way, and soon too much of it started fleeing over the little rise in the ground.  Sergeant Paul and his thirty riders from Cornwall with Melwas with his twenty from Lyoness hit the other side and Gerraint felt Bogus’ frustration because few men would flee to those woods as a chance to escape. Gerraint stopped and looked up the little rise.  He had mayhem all around him, but he stood still for a whole second which felt like an hour.  Then he started up the hill.  Men ran before him and dove to the side to get out of his way.  Gerraint got there in time to see three men cut down with arrows, each one a perfect shot.

“Deerrunner!  Cut it out!” The arrows instantly stopped, but then the elves charged, about a thousand of them, and if Gerraint did not have to defend himself, he would have put his face in his hand

In short order, the Danes realized they were surrounded and began to surrender.  Even as Arthur accepted the sword of Heilbraun, Gerraint yelled go home to whatever fairies, dwarfs, elves, or whoever might be listening.  “No next time,” he added.  “That’s cheating.”

Arthur had seven hundred dead and wounded, and such were wounds in those days they often referred to them as the dead and dying. Heilbraun and the Danes lost over three thousand men, an astounding number, but Gerraint knew at least half of those casualties were due to the little ones.  The elves alone may have accounted for a thousand, a number equal to their own, and without losing a single man, or rather, elf.

Heilbraun’s forces were crushed beyond reason and he pledged that there would be peace as long as he was alive and remained King of the Danes.  Of course, in Gerraint’s mind, he imagined the Danes could send for more ships and more young warriors at any time.  By contrast, the loss of seven hundred Britons and Welsh felt irreplaceable. After two days, Arthur found Percival protecting Greta as she tried to bandage a leg wound that she feared would get infected.

“Goreu,” he started, but Greta growled at him.

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

Arthur started over.  “Greta.  I just got word from an RDF courier.  The Irish have come up against north Wales and they have poor Leodegan under siege.”

“Pirates, a band of brigands, or the whole Irish army? Gerraint is asking,” Greta said.

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

“We need better information before we drag the whole army across the whole island,” Greta said, and stood.  “Percival, please escort me to Gerraint’s tent.”

“My lady,” Percival responded and put his arm out for her to hold.  Arthur watched and after a moment, closed his mouth.  Then he made a decision even as Meryddin found him.

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

“Greta.  A healer,” Arthur said, and walked off so Meryddin had to follow.

Arthur let the army go home.  He said they needed time to bury their dead and grieve for their losses.  “Three victories in three weeks,” seemed about the only thing he said the whole way across the island, but he understood, as they all did, that the last victory became one to cry about, not one to rejoice over.  Gerraint said nothing at all.  And poor Uwaine also remained silent because he did not know what to say.

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Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY, again

Skipping over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the story will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week.  Arthur meets Gwynyvar.  You won’t want to miss that.   Until then:

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